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Interview: December 7, 2007

December 7, 2007

On and off the field, Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy is a winner. Last February, Dungy became the first African American to coach a professional football team to a Super Bowl victory. Although his personal life was marked by tragedy last year when his 18-year-old son committed suicide, Dungy continues to maintain a strong faith in God --- and isn’t shy talking about it.’s Cindy Crosby chats with Dungy --- the author of QUIET STRENGTH --- about his biggest personal struggle, the most difficult thing about coaching, what he plans to do someday after he retires, and why talking about his faith in public is something he feels he has the right to do. How did you come to write QUIET STRENGTH when you once said “absolutely not” to writing a book? What changed your mind?

Tony Dungy: I really didn’t want to write anything after the Super Bowl, but (co-author) Nathan Whitaker really persisted in talking to me, trying to persuade me to change my mind. Several of the Christian coaches on our staff began to suggest it, but I was still pretty adamant against doing it. But, over the course of the couple of weeks following the Super Bowl, I got so many letters from people saying how they enjoyed seeing God lifted up during that week of the game, or how they appreciated our team’s approach, etc., that I began to realize how a book might help detail how God has worked in my life to make me coach and live the way I do.

BRC: As a Chicago resident, I (painfully) congratulate you on beating the Bears in Super Bowl XLI this past February. What did the Super Bowl win mean to you? How has it changed your life? Or has it?

TD: The Super Bowl win was a great feeling. It was certainly a sense of accomplishment for our team and organization. For me, personally, it was gratifying to win and be able to share with the country that even though it was a big game, it wasn’t the most important thing in my life. It was also gratifying to let people see that you could win in the NFL without it being all-encompassing and that you could coach with Christian ideals and be successful. Being the first African American coach to win one was also special. It made me very proud but it also made me think of all the African American coaches that might have done it but never got the chance. I don’t think winning has changed me, but it has changed my life. I’m certainly much more recognized now and have a larger platform nationally than I have ever had.

BRC: What is the most difficult thing about coaching professional football?

TD: The toughest thing about coaching is the time it forces you to be away from your family. The next toughest thing is having to release or trade players who you have developed relationships with. That’s especially true in this salary cap era that we’re in now. Often it’s not the player’s ability that forces you to let him go, it’s the amount of money he’s making. That’s tough to justify to a person, that he’s still doing a good job, doing everything you ask and might be one of your leaders on the team, but you are letting him go anyway. One other thing that has gotten tougher since the Super Bowl is the lack of privacy for your family. Just enjoying time with them becomes harder because we’re so recognized.

BRC: You’re lauded as a role model. What sort of pressure does that create for you --- or does it?

TD: It doesn’t put any added pressure on me because I have always considered myself, as a Christian, to be a role model for Christ. Everything I do, I would hope it would stand up to God’s scrutiny. So being in the public eye and getting so much attention from the sports world really doesn’t create any pressure to do anything different.

BRC: Who do you consider your own role model and why?

TD: I have a lot of role models. That’s something I’m very grateful for. Starting with my parents; I learned so much from them and watched how they conducted themselves. Then I had plenty of guys I watched as I was a young man. There were many NFL players who I looked to, watching how they handled themselves in the spotlight. People like Donnie Shell and John Stallworth, who were my teammates in Pittsburgh, and guys like Walter Payton, who I admired from afar. Once I got into coaching, of course it was Chuck Noll, my first coach. I also admired Tom Landry and Joe Gibbs, who were highly successful Christian coaches.

BRC: Many people believe that you shouldn’t talk about your faith in public, including a columnist in the Indianapolis Star who wrote (and I paraphrase), "Tony Dungy should talk about football and keep his faith private." How do you respond to comments like this?

TD: I personally don’t think faith has to be a private matter. But on top of that, so many of those same people say we owe it to the fans to open up our lives, be visible and be accessible to the fans. They want to ask us questions about our lives on and off the field, but when they ask those questions, they don’t want us to talk about faith. So I guess for me, it goes with the territory --- if my life and my family are going to be public domain because of my job, then I should have the ability to talk about my faith as well, because it’s such a big part of why I do my job the way I do.

BRC: Have any doors been opened to you since the Super Bowl win to talk about your faith that might have been previously closed?

TD: Yes, I have had many opportunities to talk about my faith since the game, in Christian and non-Christian environments. I was surprised that, doing the book tour, so many of the news shows that I was on allowed me to talk about it quite freely. I’ve also been invited to more outreach/youth functions than ever before.

BRC: Most NFL games are on Sunday. How do you handle the idea of “keeping the Sabbath?”

TD: I used to wrestle with this when I was younger, but the Bible’s constant message is “whatever you do, do it as unto the Lord.” We do play on Sundays, but if we play the right way, carry ourselves the right way and honor God with our lives, we can impact people for Christ that would never hear about Him in a normal “church service.” So we try to keep our games in perspective, to honor God every day of the week and hope that we can be a witness to the country on the Sundays we do play.

BRC: With players on your team from all religious backgrounds, how do you counsel players who practice a different faith from your own?

TD: I talk to our players about life and situations and doing the right thing all the time. I talk about the importance of family, about giving back to the community and being role models. Those are things that are important to me, no matter what a player feels about “religion.” But I do let guys know that I’m a Christian, I do tell stories from the Bible to illustrate points I want to make to the team, and I do want guys to know that if they come to me for advice about personal things going on in their life, they are going to get that advice from a Christian perspective. And I think most of my players accept that.

BRC: If you could do anything besides coach football, what would you do and why?

TD: I’ve done a lot of volunteering and that’s probably what I’ll do when I finish coaching. Another one of the tough things about professional football is that our schedules are made out for us for months at a time. You can’t decide when to take a vacation or a day off to do something with your family. So helping a ministry, or several ministries --- but being able to set my own schedule to some extent --- would be great. I have done a lot of work with Family First, a non-profit agency out of Tampa, and I plan to continue with that. Other than that, I’m not sure but would be open to doing anything to help young people, especially, find out more about the Lord.

BRC: What’s a typical day look like for you during the football season?

TD: Our days are pretty long, especially early in the week. I drive my son to school in the mornings, so I don’t get to the office until about 8 a.m. Monday and Tuesday we’re analyzing our previous game, preparing for our upcoming opponent and doing press conferences. Those days involve a lot of videotape work and meeting with the coaches and usually conclude about 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday are our heavy practice days. Our players come in at 8 a.m. and we have meetings to go over the game plans, afternoon practices and then meetings with the coaches to critique how things went. We normally finish between 7-8:30 a.m. on those days. Friday is a short dress rehearsal day and we finish practice at 1 pm. That’s kind of our family afternoon and evening. We also have a short day and get some family time on Saturday afternoon when we have a home game (if we play away, we fly on Saturday afternoon). Then we play on Sunday and start the whole process over again.

BRC: Football seems to be at its highest pressure point during the holidays. How do you balance the demands of family life and your chosen profession?

TD: Holidays are always tough, especially Christmas and New Year’s because that is crunch time in the NFL. My family is used to it now, but it really takes a strong wife to keep the family going, knowing that you are putting so much in to those last few weeks of the season. We try to keep our Fridays and Saturdays open for family activities. And some of our best friends are on the staff, so we share the same problems and time constraints as they do. It helps to have other people you’re close to going through the same things so you get some good lessons in how to make it work.

BRC: The professional football world is full of temptation. What do you struggle with the most, spiritually, and how do you keep accountable to your faith?

TD: Believe it or not, I struggle more with pride and envy than anything else. If you’re not doing well, you envy those teams and coaches that are winning. Then when you become successful, you really enjoy the fruits and can get caught up in thinking you deserve everything because you worked so hard. Some of the things like money, women, etc. are easier for me to be on the lookout for because they are so obvious. But Satan tends to attack me in other areas. I’m fortunate because we have so many other Christian coaches on our staff. We keep each other accountable, and many of these guys have been with me all 12 years I’ve been a head coach. We have weekly bible studies and chapel services to try to help us stay grounded and focused as well.

BRC: What authors have you found most helpful in your faith?

TD: I am not a very big reader. I’ll listen to audiotapes or Christian radio. I have gotten a lot from James Dobson, Chuck Swindoll and Tony Evans. Most of my reading time is spent on the Bible and doing Bible studies. I’m currently reading a guide called ENCOUNTER WITH GOD that has been great.

BRC: Are you working on any new books?

TD: We are currently working on a children’s book that will be coming out in the spring called YOU CAN DO IT. It’s about a family that has children thinking about what they want to do in the future and where God should fit into their plans. It came about because my wife had such a hard time finding children’s books with African-American families portrayed that had a Christian message. It’s being published by Simon & Schuster and hopefully will be as well received as QUIET STRENGTH.